Watson moves two ahead in Phoenix

Sat Feb 1, 2014 7:50pm EST
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(Reuters) - Shotmaker extraordinaire Bubba Watson birdied three of the first eight holes and conjured another from desert scrub on 17 to seize a two-stroke lead in Saturday's third round of the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The former Masters champion, co-leader with Australian journeyman Matt Jones after the delayed second round was completed earlier in the day, fired a three-under-par 68 in front of record crowds on a sunny day at the TPC Scottsdale.

American left-hander Watson, seeking his first PGA Tour title since his breakthrough major win at the 2012 Masters, mixed four birdies and a lone bogey at the 10th with several scrambled pars for a 15-under total of 198.

Burly Kevin Stadler reeled off five birdies in the last six holes for a 67 to sit two strokes off the pace, one ahead of fellow Americans Harris English (69) and Ryan Moore (64) and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama (68).

Jones recovered from a run of three straight bogeys on the back nine with birdies on the last two holes for a 72 to finish at 11 under, eight better than local favorite Phil Mickelson, whose 72 included a double-bogey at the par-three 16th.

But it was Watson, renowned for his creative shot-making and power hitting off the tee, who thrilled many of the 189,722 fans who turned out in a record number for any golf tournament.

"It was a struggle down the back nine but I held it together, made some key putts, made some key up-and-downs," Watson, who missed several fairways after the turn, told Golf Channel. "I held it together, that's the part I like.

"Got one more tough day but what I am seeing, building for the future, is it's coming together pretty good."

Watson covered the back nine in level-par 36, offsetting a bogey at the 10th with a stunning birdie at the par-four 17th where his drive ended up in desert scrub with little chance of reaching the green before he got up and down from 44 yards.   Continued...